"I kind of hit the jackpot but I did not know that when I got on the show," Ice-T tells PEOPLE of the hit NBC procedural
The rapper-turned-actor spoke to PEOPLE for last week’s cover story on Mariska Hargitay, and between his leading lady costar and his long-running spot on the "special" NBC series, he says he's truly “hit the jackpot.”
“I think SVU is a special show because it's the first time I've ever done something where people walk up in the street and say thank you,” he says. “And I found out that SVU is as much entertainment as it is therapy for a lot of women because a lot of women that watch the show are survivors — guys too. So it has a different feeling versus just normal entertainment.”
Ice-T joined SVU as Detective Fin Tutuola in the show's second season, and his performance has since earned him the distinction of being the longest-running male actor on television. The irony is that he originally only signed on to do the series for a few episodes.
Fast forward two decades, says Ice-T, and “SVU was a four-episode stint that ended up 25 years."
The beauty of SVU is that its entertainment doubles as a source of comfort for many. Characters like Fin Tutuola, Hargitay's Olivia Benson and even Kelli Giddish's Amanda Rollins are determined to get justice, and they can do it all in the span of 45 minutes.
Says Giddish at the Law & Order: SVU Season 25 celebration: "The subject matter is hard for us to talk about, but we present it in a way that has kind of a beginning, a middle and an end, so that gives the audience some kind of resolve and some kind of relief, I think."
Fans also stop Giddish to express their gratitude just like they do for Ice-T, and it's those moments, she says, that are the most meaningful.
"I know, for me, that's the most rewarding part about being on this show. The interactions I have at the coffee shop where somebody will just come up and say thank you, that means the world," she says. "It’s amazing."
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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit returns for its 25th season tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.
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